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Pro Tip Series: Feeling Overwhelmed

It’s no mystery that Bikram Yoga is a challenging practice. The conditions in the room, while ideal for gaining flexibility without chance of injury may not seem favorable, especially to a beginner. More often than not, life is very similar. When are all aspects of your life in perfect order? And how often are you in total control of each and every aspect? Rarely! The way we practice will often reflect upon the way we face our challenges day-to-day. Cultivating patience, stillness, faith and breath may come naturally to some and take time with others, but a regular practice will indefinitely transform one’s behavior outside of the hot room. Feeling overwhelmed in class? Here are some suggestions on how to get through (because in most cases, the only way out IS through):

Breathe: always through your nose with your mouth closed (with the exception of our two breathing exercises Pranayama and Kapalbhati). Slow nose-breathing will calm down the central nervous system allowing your body to make the transition from merely surviving a class/posture to finding relaxation within it. Mouth breathing will evoke panic and activate a “fight or flight” response. Make your breath inaudible to your fellow yogis, only audible to you. Slowing down your exhale can further calm down your central nervous system and prevent you from going into panic mode.

Take Breaks: real breaks! Both beginner and veteran practitioners often need a break. If you are unable to control your breath, feel dizzy, light-headed or nausea a break might be necessary. It is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact, it should be applauded because it’s an indication that you are listening to your body.

Taking a break is NOT sitting down for 15 seconds and then popping right back up. Sit out of an entire posture or several to reestablish calmness and breath. This will only serve in enabling you to finish your class strong. During the standing series try to keep your head above your heart when taking a break. Either take a knee or sit upright. Lying down and closing your eyes is not recommended. When you lay down blood pressure drops significantly which will cause dizziness when you get back to standing. Furthermore, closing your eyes will take you out of your practice entirely. Keep your eyes open and observe the class, you will likely learn something new!

Stillness: resist the temptation to fidget, move around, drink water (during postures) or wipe sweat. Fidgeting stimulates your sympathetic nervous system, promoting a “fight or flight” response and induces tension/stress in the body. Stillness is the key to gaining a calm and focused mind, giving you the opportunity to really listen to your body. It teaches you how to relax regardless of your surroundings and any discomfort you may be feeling.

Sweating is unavoidable; learn to love it! Keeping sweat on your body helps to regulate body temperature. Sweating is our bodies “natural air conditioner”- the evaporation of sweat off the skin prevents us from overheating. If you wipe sweat away your body will use energy to create more which will have the adverse effect of disrupting homeostasis making you even hotter.

Faith/Patience: have faith in yourself and the practice. Postures that once seemed impossible eventually become easier. Same goes for dealing with the conditions of the hot-room. While the effects of Bikram Yoga are often felt immediately after that invigorating post-class shower, do not expect changes to develop overnight. Nothing worthwhile and long-lasting occurs instantaneously. Bikram Yoga is NOT a fad (how did that Cabbage Soup diet work out for you?!), the series was created over 50 years ago with roots dating back to the 11th century. Keep a positive attitude knowing that millimeters eventually turn into milestones. Have faith in the journey. It may take you five years to touch your forehead to your knee…so what? The gratification felt after five years of hard work will certainly surpass any feelings of accomplishment if you were able to nail “head to knee” on your first day.  

Come back: return to class the next day ESPECIALLY if you struggled. If you wake up sore, find solace knowing that you worked hard. Muscle soreness is a buildup of lactic acid. This may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to relieve soreness is by stretching in a heated environment. Waiting too long to come back feels like starting all over again.

To derive maximum benefit and enjoy prolonged health, the series should be practiced on a regular basis. Bikram Yoga can be practiced daily, unlike most forms of exercise where rest days are necessary. As the frequency of your practice increases you will notice improvements, not only in the hot-room but in your life! Embrace the challenge that is Bikram Yoga…“with a smiling, happy face,” of course!

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Score: Gravity: 0; Yoga: 3

After the class gratefully exited locust the other night, the teacher chastised us all for kerploping our four limbs to the ground. Lower them slowly instead, she said. Make the motion weight-bearing. Don’t give in to gravity.  Instead of taking that moment to be lazy, to let your legs and arms drop fruitlessly, exert muscle against gravity, lower them slowly, like barbells, using the opportunity given by gravity to grow strong.

“Don’t give in to gravity,” is a strategy that maxs out your postures. In triangle, for example, holding the torso aloft, so that the spine is a straight diagonal with the back leg, is far harder work than letting it curl down. Half the point of balancing stick is to resist the torso’s inclination to succumb to gravity and topple to the floor. Indeed every one-legged posture doubles the exertion against gravity, and the point is to bear that doubled weight and not give in.

Along with conquering gravity with muscular force, yoga also conquers gravity by toning the body, enabling it to resist gravity’s downward drag.  After age 40, the spine shrinks half an inch per decade. But this is not biology, not inevitable. It is caused by gravity compounded by laziness. Stretch the spine with yoga—and Bikram yoga focusses on the spine—and gravity will literally not lower you.  (And if you do headstands, those spongy discs in your spine get a chance to decompress and plump up, keeping your height.) And every teacher or blogger who extols yoga as the fountain of youth mentions the sag it reverses,  how it prevents the drooping and pebbling that gravity inflicts on thighs and arms.

If yogis don’t give in to gravity in our postures, and our bodies don’t give in to gravity because of years we commit to our practices, yogis also don’t give in to gravity in our hearts and spirits. As our teachers advice us over and over, “don’t let anyone steal your peace.”

The choice to emotionally or psychologically not crumble or rage at the grave is a choice to not give in to gravity.  Crumbling or raging will not change gravity nor the grave. Not giving in is the first step toward thinking, now what, what is the next step given this serious pickle? Thinking, not buckling to the weight or the downward force, while standing straight, feeling tall, and, well, defying gravity.

Score: Gravity, 0; Yoga, 3.

Namaste,

Yoga Lily

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Teacher Feature: Chrystine Cooper

Practicing Bikram Yoga since the summer of 2000 and teaching since December 2005, Chrystine is a devoted Bikram Yogini. She grew up out west in the Reno/Tahoe area of Nevada and moved to The Big Apple in September of 1986. Bikram Yoga has taught her the tremendous importance of the mind-body connection in overall health and well being and she feels very fortunate to have the opportunity to help guide people through their practice.

We asked Chrystine to put together some of her inspirations for this teacher feature, and goodness did she deliver! The following content is directly from Chrystine…


We all have various things that inspire us throughout our lives and in addition to my yoga practice here are a few things that are giving me hope and good cheer these days.

Some of my favorite quotes

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor worry about the future, but to live to the present moment wisely and Earnestly.

– buddha

Of all the various delusions, the sense of discrimination between oneself and others is the worst form, as it creates nothing but unpleasantness for both sides.

– dalai lama

Some of my regular web connections

Listening to

Unwind from your week with me at 7pm the last friday of every month for bikram yoga with music in the background!

Current reading list

Some of my favorite places

Lake Tahoe Nevada shore
Lake Michigan north western shore
Great lawn central park
Lincoln center – this photo is from the peace lantern lighting on 21 sept 2015

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